Friday, May 9, 2008

The Influence of a Blind Dude

So last week I'm on the phone with my blind buddy Erik (the guy I have guided all over the world) and he says to me..."let's do another adventure race."

To many this may seem like a benign invitation to go share a fun couple of days with a friend but I know better.
In 2003, Erik and I partnered up with a couple of experienced adventure racers (one of them, Rob Harsh is an amazing athlete living in Boulder) to try our hand at the sport. For those not familiar with adventure racing, a brief description: a whirlwind of mountain biking, climbing, rappelling, trail running, orienteering, white water paddling and suffering. The final activity in that list being the most worthy. Due to the fact that it is a 'race', there are time limits on every stage and if a team doesn't enter into the transition area within the allotted time, they are disqualified. This sense of urgency requires a lot of hustle and very little sleep.

We traveled to all the way to Greenland for our first race. Did OK on it...although we didn't finish which was a big blow. However, we did not let this get us down as our main objective was to be Primal Quest in the Sierra Madre mountains near Lake Tahoe.

Below is the report I put together following that race:

Rough Water Paddle

Glad that one's done. We started into the 457-mile race two Fridays ago (the 5th) on the shore of Lake Tahoe. I'll hit some of the highs and lows of the subsequent ten days as our team of four, plus a wonderful cast of extras finished what's being dubbed as the hardest adventure race ever on American soil. The first day took us paddling around the north shore of the lake on what was supposed to be a "flat water paddle." This became quite the misnomer as we turned the boat back south into the prevailing winds and encountered 15-20 mph gusts and three foot swells crashing over the bow of the boat. All four of us became somewhat uncomfortable, however Erik took the brunt of the pain riding in front of the boat...occasionally he would be submerged for a split second as a whitecap cascaded over him onto me. The carnage was starting to stack up as five of the 80 boats that started either capsized or sank. We limped onto shore about eight hours after setting off and could barely walk due to the stiffness that had set in several hours previous.

Kickbikes and Adventure?

The next leg was a 23 mile kickbike section...What's a kickbike you ask? It's like a fancy scooter. I was dreading this section due to the fact that there is absolutely no way to look cool while captaining a kickbike. In retrospect, I found the kickbiking to be the most enjoyable leg due to its simplicity and brevity. At midnight that evening we pulled into our first transition area where we were met by our support crew that fed and drank us for two hours before we saddled up the bikes and headed out on a 110 mile bike ride. As you can imagine, this is too long to be on any bike, much less a tandem mountain bike that carries a combined weight of around 380 lbs. The best part of this lengthy segment was the ridiculously sustained up hill nature of the ride. The 12,000 feet of elevation gain was constant and relentless. We were met by hill after hill until it became funny.

Seated on a tandem bike for 110 miles. . . ouch

The unfortunate thing about the tandem isn't necessarily the burden of weight; it's the fact that as the pilot, I was unable to get out of the saddle for any of the long ride which inflicts great pain and discomfort on the nether regions of one's body. My booty hurt...bad. We peddled through the night and at dawn laid down in the dirt to get our first hour and ½ of sleep of the race. The following evening, with only 10 miles left of this heinous biking leg, we made our first navigational error which dropped us down a valley trail...losing about 1,000 feet of elevation in the wrong direction.
Wrong Turn

It was 4 am before we, along with five other teams, realized our brutal mistake. The decision was made to lay down in the dirt, wrapped in our 'space blankets,' which are just over priced sheets of Mylar that seem to trap in a small fraction of your body's exothermic heat. I was fortunate enough to be so exhausted that I was able to sleep for two hours, spooned against Erik. I awoke at 6 am as the first rays of sun were lighting the sky and couldn't feel my right foot. My first thought was, "this is great...all these years in the mountains without any frostbite and here I am about to have a frostbitten right foot and lose some toes in a stupid adventure race...great." Within 90 seconds I was up and pushing that 30 pound tandem bike up the hill. Turns out we were only about 2 hours away from the warmth and hospitality of our boys in the next transition area. Bummer.

Salvation in the form of a Paddle

The days started to melt together...a 25 mile trek...a section of orienteering...back on the bikes for 50 miles...a 43 mile trek...a 700 foot free hanging rappel...then, onto a whitewater paddle. The whitewater section took us down the south fork of the American River, which was running quite large at the time with multiple 3+ rapids. A bit of divine intervention played out early on during the paddle. Within the first half hour, Rob broke his paddle on a rock. This didn't bode well, leaving four of us with three paddles and many miles of rapids followed by several miles of flat lake paddling ahead of us. As usual, we just sucked it up and switched paddles around to be efficient (gave Erik the broken one) and continued on. One minute later I spotted a perfectly brilliant paddle floating in a pool just a few feet away. We were whole again....thanks to the powers that be. I began to dread the night. With it came the notorious "sleep monster"...the nebulous creature that entered your mind and body while fighting sleep and tortured you with hallucinations and fatigue until you either fought through it, gave in, or the sun came up. The need for sleep was sometimes painful and I wanted it like I've never wanted anything in my life...the ease and comfort of deep sleep. I couldn't have it though....would let the team down...gotta fight through it...must ignore those damn gnomes, elves and goblins that run annoyingly across the path. This was the hardest part for me by far.

Not quite last...

Many other remarkable events played out over the next several days, too many to mention ...however, the most remarkable was when we crossed the finish line at 4:07 am on Sunday morning in 48th place out of 49 teams that finished the race. Ten days after starting. We were and continue to be filled with pride over what we did. I think the four of us, Cammy, Rob, Erik and I along with our support crew of Gavin and Ben were the only ones associated with the race that KNEW we would finish this grueling event. With a valiant display of teamwork, determination and perseverance, we showed 'em.

After the suffering that I experienced on that race I swore I would never do any more racing. So, this is why I am still confused how I got duped into doing another race with Erik. I suppose because this is an exceptional race with an exceptional organization. The race is called the Real Deal Inclusive Sports Challenge, sponsored by World TEAM Sports. It will take place over the weekend of June 27-29 and will be aired on ABC Sports later in the year.

More details to well as more suffering. I can't wait!